Lady of the Evening
In a writing class in Bethesda, Maryland, my fellow classmates and I read Julianna Baggott’s insights into writing memoir. She related her experience piecing together her family’s spotted history to craft this novel about a woman who became the madam of a brothel.
After reading the article, I was anxious to read the aforementioned book, The Madam. What an intriguing facet of American culture! And the fact that this takes place around the Depression era, gives more of a historical eye to the setup of one small West Virginian town.
Baggott is a brilliant writer with several other novels out that have been bestsellers. I have to say that I did enjoy this novel, but I went into it with some expectations that weren’t met. I was a bit surprised that this novel wasn’t really about being a madam for a brothel. It scopes the life of Alma, a young mother of three, who leaves her factory job to investigate a business venture with her husband, is abandoned in Florida, and returns home having to find a way to support herself and her family. While her story of becoming a madam is interesting, I was certain that the latter part would then be about actually managing the brothel. I expected to read more about the daily issues she faced in this business. Instead, the second part focuses on her daughter, Lettie, and her mistakes with men. I felt that the story of Lettie could have been drawn out more with more scenes. The ending seems to wrap up the book quickly.
When reading novels based on fact, I’m always interested in how much was fact. They say that fiction is more real than non-fiction. In any case, there were some obvious dichotomies set up between the convent and the whorehouse that I felt were a little too blatant.
While I didn’t thoroughly enjoy this novel as much as I have her other works, it’s still worth a read! Definitely check out some of Baggott’s other novels as well!